When Writing Stops Being Fun. . .

Longtime journalist Barnard Law Collier, who now lives in Barbados, often adds a comment to a post that is more interesting than the post. Here’s his reaction to a July 3 post, “Writing Is Fun. No, It’s Not.”

Dear Jack,

When I was about eight years old, my dad, who was a lawyer, told me:

“If I had the time, I’d write you a short letter.”

He was a fan of Mark Twain and quoted him often. Dad also told me another Twain dictum:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

From that time on, to write became fun for me. Lightning bugs make me happy, but I’m always on the lookout for the immortal thrills of lightning.

I’ve been lucky to have line edited some writers who I know had as much fun writing as I do.

The humorist Art Buchwald found extreme happiness in his ability to see and to express in words the unvarnished actualities of the real world and human condition and yet make people smile. He was funny because he had so much fun in telling real truths. He quickly intuited just the right form for a story (usually about 750 words), and then he flashed some serious lightning amidst his friendly lightning bugs. He was grateful for all editing suggestions that sought the lightning.

Isaac Asimov had so much fun writing in his West Side garret that after a while it was just about all he did. I line edited a series of his syndicated science articles and, just like Buchwald, he almost never disputed an edit because he was always on the lookout for another bolt of truth. All I’d have to say or note was, “Is there a better word?” and he happily hunted until he found it.

Pablo Neruda, a wondrous Chilean poet, worked for lightning bolts on every line. I helped to translate into English a version of his Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquin Murieta (The Brilliance and Death of Joaquin Murieta) and his ability to find just the right word, both in Spanish and English, was not only fun but usually funny.

I’ve known a few self-proclaimed writers who whined that writing was for them a torture. They knew zip about either lightning bugs or lightning, and nothing was less fun than their darkness. When writing stops being fun it’s best to stop writing.

Barney

Comments

  1. John Corcoran says:

    Dear Barnard Law Collier,

    Ooooh, you had me all the way til your last sentence, May I offer three more words that might improve the piece, at least from my experience.

    I suggest the last three words should be “for a while.”

    One can grow weary trying to wade through lightning bugs, and sometimes a writers just get worn out. I’ve found under such circumstance, it’s time to stop for a while. So far the urge has always returned.

    The day it does not is a day I dread.

    • Corcoroni T. Magnificent says:

      “a writer Just gets worn out.” EDITING & PROOFING. The least fun parts of writing for some of us.

  2. BARNARD COLLIER says:

    Dear John,

    How about:? . . . until it is fun again.

    Most of the best writers I’ve known, those who are not blockheads by Dr. Johnson’s definition, almost never hit a spot when writing is a chore rather than a pleasurable sport.

    I am reminded of Isaac Asimov’s reply when asked what he would do if he knew he was going to die in an hour?

    “I’d type faster,” he said.

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